- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2003

Panasonic, Palm, Philips and other makers of cell phones, hand-held computers and electronic doodads would have you believe the good times are rolling now like never before.
They may have a point.
More than 2,000 such companies are trucking their newest wares to Las Vegas' International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week, promising to overwhelm the city's gargantuan convention hall. The show, which features keynotes by chiefs of Sony, Microsoft and Intel, has typically pessimistic analysts abuzz with a fervor that seems alien in times of war and uncertainty.
"If you're a techie, this is gadget nirvana," said Tim Bajarin, president of technology consulting firm Creative Strategies.
As once-mighty technology shows like Comdex and TechXNY falter, CES thrives.
The reason, perhaps, is that the now-ubiquitous personal computer was never central to the CES. Now, PC technology is being integrated into slick gadgets that have stolen the limelight from the PC and the trade shows created to tout it.
Even Microsoft, the company that cashed in most on the PC revolution, is eager to talk about home-entertainment hubs, wireless displays and Internet appliances such as the alarm clock that downloads weather and traffic news while you sleep.
In 1967, when the first CES opened in New York City, vendors extolled the latest in transistor radios, audio cassettes and small-screen black-and-white televisions.
This year's show focuses on the same patterns of electronic consumption. Instead of transistor radios, companies are expected to show car radios that receive broadcasts of digital music as well as television.
The portable storage seen in the audio cassette has morphed into many forms, including the Secure Digital card, which is the size of a quarter. Panasonic will announce a new one that holds a gigabyte of digital data roughly the same as a 90-minute analog cassette.
And televisions are still hot items 36 years later, with several companies proffering flat panels the size of a small garden patch that are digital-cable-ready.
Analysts are agog over the forthcoming personal video player, or PVP, that chipmaker Intel and ReplayTV maker SONICblue are working on. Intel will show off several prototypes of the Walkman-sized PVP, with a 4-inch screen and storage for more than 10 hours of movies.
The Intel PVP won't be the first such device. France's Archos released its $399 Jukebox Multimedia, with a 1-inch screen, last year.
Analysts also admit pent-up reverence for the emerging wireless "smart displays," such as the ViewSonic airpanel and Philips iPronto. Both are the first of a slew of such products using touch-screen technology that Microsoft announced at last year's CES, under the name Mira.
Instead of tethering computer users to a desk, smart displays allow people to wander throughout the house or office with a screen that links wirelessly with the computer.
At least two companies will offer systems for those who want live television beamed to their cars, rather than just DVDs playing on their seat-back screens.
KVH Industries will introduce a car-mounted 4-inch-high disc antenna that pulls in satellite television. The $2,000 antennas, already in use by the U.S. military, devote an array of tiny gyroscope-guided dish antennas to lock onto a satellite during the twists and turns of the road.
Sirius Satellite Radio also plans to demonstrate that a Sirius-configured Kenwood car stereo can receive satellite-beamed video alongside radio broadcasts.
A handful of cell-phone and hand-held-computer makers will further blend the two devices. Hitachi and Samsung will introduce PDA phones with picture-messaging capabilities. Both can access higher-speed wireless networks to send e-mail and surf the Internet. The Hitachi also integrates a keyboard.
Several analysts point to the emergence of a wider "digital lifestyle" that aims to steer people back into their homes, away from foreign vacations.
The concept is boosted by converging home-entertainment devices and software known collectively as "media gateways." The gateways bundle stray audio and video formats such as MP3s, recorded TV shows and digital pictures to allow users to control them from a single device.
"There's a blending between the home PC and the home-entertainment systems, your stereo and TV," said Forrester Research's Charles Golvin.
The gateways can take the shape of a PC-centric system, a set-top box or a hand-held computer.

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